BAGHDAD: Pope Francis, beginning the first trip by a pontiff to Iraq, made an impassioned call on Friday for an end to the militant violence and religious strife that has plagued the country for decades, saying peacemakers should finally be given a chance. “May the clash of arms be silenced … may there be an end to acts of violence and extremism,” he said, addressing Iraqi President Barham Salih, politicians and diplomats at the presidential palace.
Francis arrived at Baghdad airport under tight security, after telling reporters on his plane that he felt dutybound to make the “emblematic” trip because the country “has been martyred for so many years”.
Most of the people along the roads and even some in the presidential palace did not wear masks, despite the risk of coronavirus. In his speech at the palace, Francis criticised factional and foreign interests that have destabilised Iraq and the wider region and hit ordinary people the hardest.
He later paid tribute to people killed in attacks motivated by religion, visiting a Baghdad church where Islamist gunmen killed about 50 worshippers in 2010. Their deaths were a reminder that “violence or the shedding of blood are incompatible with authentic religious teachings”, he said.